Kindling Holiday Magic During Seasons of Change

“There’s a story behind these butterscotch brownies,” I told our Thanksgiving guests, as my brother Dan served dessert. “Mom created the recipe when Dan was six and became allergic to chocolate.”

There was a collective gasp as people imagined the horror of being allergic to chocolate. Then there were satisfying sighs as they tasted the melting sweetness of the brownies; Dan had re-created the recipe when my mother, disabled by Alzheimer’s, could no longer bake. Fortunately, Mom enjoyed sweets all her life and we always shared the story of these treats with her, reminding her how much we loved and appreciated her.

These brownies were one way my brother and I honored our mother during the holiday season.

I recently reached out to several exceptional people for advice: how do we take care of ourselves and our loved ones who have Alzheimer’s during the holidays?
Here are their words of wisdom:

Let go of the Past and Embrace a Plan 

Linda Moore, PhD, psychologist and author of What’s Wrong With Me?, reminds us to separate our feelings from the facts. For example, a caregiver might think, “My mother’s Alzheimer’s is going to ruin my holiday,” instead of realizing,  “‘My mother’s Alzheimer’s may make my holiday different.”

“Once you can understand the holiday celebration may be different, you can plan and orchestrate a gathering that supports a person who may be less mobile, less verbal and less able to hear and understand,” Dr. Moore explains. “The planning helps diminish the emotionality in the situation.”

Tailor the Celebration

“Caregivers must be willing to adapt to the condition of the person with dementia,” says Dr. Ethelle Lord, a pioneer in Alzheimer’s coaching. “If people with dementia still enjoy opening gifts and seeing all the decorations, then go for it. If they no longer recognize the decorations/gifts, simplify their celebration.”

Tailor their holiday to meet their needs, while finding ways to honor your own holiday traditions.

Find Comfort in Memories

“Many people with Alzheimer’s can relate to the sights, sounds, and aromas of the holidays,” says health and lifestyle expert Stephanie Stephens. Stephens felt her mother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, still knew that “something was special” during the holiday season.

For Stephens, the holidays brought forth a mixture of joyful and sorrowful emotions. She comforted herself by remembering the many Christmas mornings of her childhood. She reviewed old photos from holidays past and held on to the memories, cognizant that those days were gone and this was now.

“Cherish your memories and find comfort in the spirit of the season,” she advises.

Take the Party to Them

“If your relative with dementia is in a long-term care home and it’s difficult for them to move about, take the party to them,” suggests Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide.

Decorate their room in a festive manner. Reserve a private dining area or lounge in the care facility and invite friends and family over to celebrate.  Or encourage family members to visit in small groups over the holiday weekend, bringing food, stories and presents to enjoy.


Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. For a signed copy, contact Rainy Day books:  913-384-3126

Please learn more from and about these wise people.

Dr. Ethelle Lord
Stephanie Stephens
Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD


  1. Dr. Eleanor Barbera | My Better Nursing Home on December 18, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    […] Kindling Holiday Magic During Seasons of Change […]

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